A well-known local attraction is set to reopen over Memorial Day Weekend after more than 25 years of neglect.
The Coudersport Ice Mine closed in 1987, but is readying to reopen thanks to the dedication of its new owners, Gary and Diana Buchsen.
Countless hours of restoration work has been completed to bring the Ice Mine back to what it once was, and it looks pretty authentic to the site in its’ heyday.
“People have been stopping in to look and they say ‘it looks just exactly the way remember seeing it as kids,’” Gary Buchsen stated. “As much as we could, we stuck to the original look.”
According to Buchsen, the place was in serious disrepair when the family purchased it. Trees had fallen onto the building and grounds, the driveway was overgrown, the roof on the gift shop had collapsed.
But much work has been done to make it the prime tourist destination that it once was. The road has been cleared and resurfaced; benches and signage have been built and installed; a large deck was constructed; the Gift Shop building has been completely rebuilt and repainted to look like the original. Even the orangey-red of the floor has been maintained, though much of the floor had to be rebuilt.
Some work to the mine itself had to be completed, as well. Over the years, shale flaked off the mine’s walls and filled the hole and had to be removed. The stone wall had to be reinforced with concrete and rebuilt. The building received a makeover and a new roof.
There is a lot of history at the Ice Mine. The site was accidentally discovered in 1894 by Billy O’Neil, who was using a divining rod to locate a silver mine he believed was hidden somewhere on Ice Mountain.
O’Neil instead found underground ice, and years later the Ice Mine became a major attraction.
At its peak, when the mine was owned by the Shear Family, more than 1,000 people visited the mine in one day over the Fourth of July Holiday. Buchsen stated that cars used to park on U.S. Route 6 and walk several miles to the attraction due to lack of parking.
The Coudersport Ice Mine is not only fascinating to tourists and residents, but a number of prominent scientists have studied the site, and a new study will take place over the next year.
The interesting phenomenon that creates ice mines, of which there are many in the area of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, is being studied currently. It is believed that there may be a line of these types of caves, and instrumentation has been placed in the Coudersport Ice Mine to monitor temperature and humidity as part of the study.
While there are many of these Ice Mines, the one in Coudersport is the coldest cold spot known to exist east of the Mississippi River, and is the largest of its kind.
Buchsen explained that during the winter, the rocks in the area of the Ice Mine absorb cold air, and in the spring it begins to release. The cold air comes into contact with the air’s humidity and forms ice, creating the interesting formations that grow within the Ice Mine.
The reopening of the Ice Mine is just one step in Buchsen’s plan to create tourism opportunities within Potter County. He recently purchased two of the covered wagons that were used for tours of the Pine Creek Gorge and hopes to offer trips between the Ice Mine, nearby restaurants, the Mini Golf course and other local attractions. A trail in the area that will be used for the earliest tours, which Buchsen hopes to begin this Fourth of July, can later be expanded to connect with the Borough of Coudersport.
The Potter County Visitors Association Executive Director, David Brooks, stated that the Coudersport Ice Mine is one of the most inquired-about attractions within the county, and Commissioner Paul Heimel stated the county “welcomes this development — it fits in with the tourism industry and is a very neat, and well-loved, attraction.”
The Coudersport Ice Mine will reopen on May 22, and will be open throughout the summer from Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The Gift Shop will offer Ice Mine souvenirs, along with ice cream, locally-produced Maple Syrup, root beer and a wealth of other items.
The Ice Mine is located at 176 Ice Mine Road in Sweden Township, accessible by turning onto Cherry Springs Road (PA-44) from U.S. Route 6, then onto Mitchell Hollow Road. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-12, and children under 6 free.
For more information, visit the Coudersport Ice Mine page on Facebook.